The dawn of the twenty-first century has brought with it a plethora of changes. Social media taking precedence over all other forms of media acts as one of the most glaring aspects of the change. The social media-saturated environment in which we live in fosters a certain way of life dependent on instant gratification and virtual communication. Social media is changing the way in which people interact, spend their time, and understand themselves and the world around them.
A social networking site is defined as: “Web-based services that allow individuals to (1) construct a public or semi-public proﬁle within a bounded system, (2) articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and (3) view and traverse their list of connections and those made by others within the system. The nature and nomenclature of these connections may vary from site to site.” (Boyd 211).
The youth of today engage through some popular social networking sites. They are: Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter and several others. While these platforms provide us with a good way to network with people across the globe, it’s important to recognize the fact that social-media users are amenable to issues like, invasion of privacy, cyber-bullying, etc.
In today’s technologically driven and information-heavy world, people are so invested in their social media profiles that they cannot stop using them, even when involved in physical social interactions. This obsession can be fatalistic in nature Social media users seem to profit greatly when they use these sites- they can maintain long distance relationships, look at photos of relatives whom they would otherwise not see on a regular basis, and stay up-to-date on the social activities with which they are involved in. As society becomes more reliant on social media, individuals become more focused on physical appearance or rather their online appearance and superficiality. It’s even more imperative to focus on the larger issue being faced today, that is, social media’s impact on body image of women.
Social media platforms endorse the image of ‘thin ideal’ which makes women question their appearance. College going women are exceptionally vulnerable to the impact that social media can have on their body image as they develop an outlook on their bodies and accept the developmental changes that occurred during puberty. There is a direct relationship between the recent surge in the number of women with eating disorders and high consumption of social media. Looking at the posts of influencers with a ‘perfect’ figure, women start becoming more preoccupied with their appearance. In a research done by Lewallen and Behm-Morawitz(2016), it was found that, in response to images viewed on the fitness boards on Pinterest, young adolescent girls and women initiated a process of self-reflection, which increased their engagement in extreme weight-loss behaviors, such as crash dieting or a radical exercise plan. Studies on Instagram have mostly focused on ‘thinspiration’ pictures. Thinspiration, according to the Families Empowered and Supporting Treatment of Eating Disorders Glossary, is:
“Any form of media, print, online, pictures, videos, etc. that are utilized in an unhealthy manner to promote continued weight loss. This information can take the form of images of slim celebrities; individuals afflicted with an eating disorder or emaciated models and is often exchanged amongst members of online proeating disorder communities’’
One experiment performed in 2011 by Nina Haferkamp and Nicole C. Kramer revealed that “people who look at attractive users [on Facebook] have less positive emotions afterwards and are also more dissatisfied with their own body image than people who look at unattractive users”
Social media influence women to think that they are only bodies to be looked at and critiqued – that the shape and size of their body will never be good enough. They begin to understand themselves and their female peers as sexualized objects whose bodies are more valued than their minds. As young females become more consistently and constantly exposed to this objectification of women through social media, it is likely that the process of objectification can lead to self-objectification. Photo based social media gives women an outlet on which to self-objectify – a place for them to post photos of themselves that mimic what they see in advertising.
To remedy the issue of growing body dissatisfaction among women due to social media, it is important for social media users to be able to curate a social media environment that promotes positive body image by unfollowing or blocking idealized accounts and following more body positive accounts. In other words, women can build a positive body image by controlling what they view on social media. It is important that we do so. Healthy lifestyle and a happy life stems from internal happiness that stems from honest conversations. Befriending strangers online can only have dire effects on everyone involved. The number of likes should not be given the power to put a measure on how important you are.